Solace Global Maritime Security compile a monthly report, summarising maritime incidents in areas of high risk piracy and other security threats.
The report is researched and collated by the Solace Global in-house intelligence team. The report covering the month of August looks at the following three areas:
- High Risk Area (Indian Ocean)
- Gulf of Guinea & West Coast of Africa
- South East Asia
Compared to October, the Indian Ocean High Risk Area has had a much calmer month in November. However, there were two suspicious approaches at the beginning of the month in the Bab-el-Mandeb; highlighting the continued threat to shipping in the region. The Indian Navy also seized arms and ammunition off pirates operating off the Somali coast. New Delhi has stated this month that it was committed to patrolling the “troubled” sea in an effort to continue combating piracy. Elsewhere, the conflict in Yemen is continuing to cause instability in the region.
The United Nation’s security council has also adopted a resolution to renew for 12 months authorizations allowing international naval forces to join in the fight against piracy in the waters off the coast of Somalia. In addition to the resolution, the Indian navy has stated that it remains committed to curbing “this global menace”.
The announcement came after an Indian Navy ship seized the aforementioned arms and ammunition off the Somali coast. The ship, Sunayna, carried out the operation on 9 November while patrolling approximately 400 nautical miles northeast of Mogadishu. The mariners discovered two high-calibre AK 47 and AKM rifles as well as some ammunition, the Navy officials said. The boats and crew were released post interrogation. The ship has been deployed for anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden since 6 October.
Further afield, South African Maritime Safety Authority’s acting chief operations officer, Sobantu Tilayi, has stated that the fight against East African piracy is being won. Through patrols, they have been able to decrease pirate activity on the East Coast of the continent. Additionally, maritime safety authorities from as far as Egypt are reportedly constantly sharing information with each other about activities that happen on the sea. These operations have been coupled with other patrol operations conducted by the South African Navy.
Away from Piracy, Iran’s Navy is set to receive three new destroyers, with naval commanders stating that the vessels will be deployed to northern and southern armadas within the next four months. The destroyers have been named Sahand, Damavand and Dena. It is believed that the vessels will displace around 7500 tons while there has been speculation around their exact role with models depicting them equipped with anti-ship radar and ship-to-ship missiles.
Finally, Houthi rebels are reportedly ready to negotiate with United Nations to hand over the control of the Port of Hodeidah. It is hoped that the initiative will add momentum for peace talks expected to start in the near future in Sweden between Saudi and Houthi officials.
GULF OF GUINEA
Contrary to the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Guinea has had quite an active month and has seen numerous incidents ranging from suspicious boardings while at anchor to full pirate attacks on underway vessels. Numerous incidents occurred in proximity to the Niger Delta region; however, incidents have also occurred in Cameroonian and Guinean waters which highlights the regional threat. Elsewhere, the Nigerian government has committed to drafting an anti-piracy bill and, additionally, France has completed a maritime drill with 14 other countries in what is hoped will become an annual event.
The Nigerian anti-piracy bill is seen as vital to the Nigerian economy; especially after the United Nations Security Council disclosed that Nigeria is losing about US$1.5bn a month due to piracy, armed robbery at sea, smuggling and fuel supply fraud in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). Nigeria’s New Telegraph reported on 26 November that the loses connected to piracy on shipping in Nigeria’s territorial waters and the GoG were at a more moderate, but still substantial, US$2.74bn in the past year.
Additionally, on top of causing a toll on the Nigerian economy, the attacks are creating a notorious reputation for the country’s waters. Several recent pirate attacks have occurred inside Nigerian waters and at anchorages, and the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Dakuku Peterside, has complained that he believes that the “exaggerated reports” could damage the nation’s reputation. He also cited that measures being undertaken including the aforementioned anti-piracy bill and investment in a satellite surveillance system, which has the capacity to view all vessels on the country’s waterways, will aid the country tackle the menace. While the reputational damage is having a negative impact on the country’s income, it is also resulting in insurance surcharges imposed on Nigerian shipments simply because the country’s territorial waters are not safe for navigation.
However, while these steps are positive, Nigeria continues to fight corruption; for example, a court in Milan is currently considering charges of corruption against Eni and Shell in a controversial oil deal that led to Nigeria losing an estimated US$6bn. Global Witness has calculated that the OPL deal in 2011 deprived Nigeria of double its annual education and healthcare budget. However, the government has also been accused of neglect; fuelling the problem of piracy by abandonment of the Niger-Delta region. Despite the continuous exploitation of petroleum products in the region, there has been a lack of social amenities and general neglect, resulting in the youths resorting to “self-help”.
Despite this, the Nigerian Navy has insisted that constant patrols of the Niger Delta with new gunboats and other new equipment have made the waterways safe for business. Real Admiral Saidu Garba, Flag Officer Commanding of the Central Navy Command, stated that these patrols had reduced the cases of oil theft, sea piracy and other “criminalities” on the waterways. A number of exercises carried by the command both on land and at sea saw military personnel undergoing different drills which included live-fire exercises, field manoeuvres and transfers of men from one vessel to another. Additionally, the Nigerian Navy said on Monday it current had taken 52 vessels and 40 people into custody for various alleged piracy-related offences.
As mentioned, France and 14 West African nations recently took part in what is hoped to be the first of an annual “Grand African NEMO (Navy Exercise for Maritime Operations)” drill. The week-long training session was led by the French Mistral helicopter carrier, which was equipped with an Alouette 3 helicopter and supported by the frigate Vetose, a Cameroonian 500-ton patrol boat, a Nigerian frigate, Gambia’s Kunta patrol boat and Benin’s French-built Ouémé patrol vessel; a total of 21 vessels and five aircraft took part. A focus of the drill was put on tackling illegal fishing. Smaller exercises organised by these countries are held several times a year and dubbed simply “African NEMO.”
SOUTH EAST ASIA
The Japanese coast guard carried out joint drills vs piracy with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Sunday, 25 November. The drills were designed to train against piracy incidents and hijackings at sea. A total of four patrol vessels were used during the drills in the Manila Bay. Notably, the PCG’s BRP Suluan and fast patrol boat BRP Boracay were involved both of which were acquired from Japan as well as its French-built BRP Panglao.
The drill comes as Philippine President Duterte looks likely to extend the martial law on the island of Mindanao in the south of the country. Duterte’s request, which could be approved as early as next week (week commencing 10 December), comes despite critics voicing concerns the move threatens human rights and places too much power in the leader’s hands. However, a spokesman for the president said the extension (which will be the third) is needed to protect the nation and its people.
There are also concerns that the Abu Sayyaf threat of kidnappings will transpire into a reality. Malaysian authorities in the state of Sabah have been carrying out numerous successful operations to thwart attempted kidnappings. At least 10 attempts have been thwarted in the past months; however, the threat from the group remains present.
Maritime Unions in Australia have been raising fuel security concerns amid fears that the country could suffer shortages or even grind to a halt. According to the union, the country has less than three weeks of liquid fuel reserves and, currently, no Australian-crewed tankers supply fuel to the nation.
The Americas are seeing a rise in Maritime threats. The crisis in Venezuela is creating the perfect environment to cause a surge in piracy. Currently, the majority of incidents that have occurred are robberies on ships at anchor; however, a number of fishing boats have been attacked in recent months. Additionally, further afield, an incident occurred in Peru where a robber stole an anchored ship’s stores. Elsewhere, the Iranian Navy has stated that it will deploy a number of vessels to Venezuela.
The deployment of Iranian naval vessels is part of Tehran’s plan to dispatch ships further abroad, according to top commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi. In recent years, the navy has conducted numerous anti-piracy operations as well as routine security patrols in the nearby Gulf of Aden and Strait of Bab el-Mandeb. However, it has rarely dispatched surface warfare assets on transoceanic voyages. It is planned that the deployment will last around five months and hopefully demonstrate the fleets ability to conduct protracted deployments.
As both Iran and Venezuela are, to an extent, isolated regimes with overlapping economic interests the countries have well-established ties and networks for commerce, banking and mutual investment. During the Chavez presidency, the Venezuelan government was accused of helping Tehran evade sanctions and launder money. The Chavez government was also accused of helping the spread of extremism by providing a safe harbour for elements of the designated terrorist organisation Hezbollah; an Iranian proxy.
The deteriorating economic situation and civil unrest in Venezuela have led to robbers targeting vessels in the country; especially those anchored in port. These attacks are increasing, especially on anchored vessels in Puerto José and Puerto La Cruz; at least eight vessels in these two locations have been targeted by robbers. The has also been a growing fear for the safety of crew when they are ashore. There have been no reported significant incidents in November; however, on 1 December two robbers boarded an anchored product tanker in Puerto La Cruz and attempted to open the forward store. They were spotted by the duty watchkeeper who raised the alarm and, after hearing the alarm, the robber fled without stealing anything. There have also been reported of vessels’ distress calls to shore authorities not being answered.
Piracy in Venezuela is also on the rise with incidents occurring with increasing frequency. However, for the time being, Venezuela pirates have generally kept to targeting inshore fishing vessels and have not yet made the “jump” to larger international tankers and bulk carriers. It is unclear at this stage if they will attempt to target underway vessels in the same vein as Somali pirates of those in the Gulf of Guinea. In all cases the piracy risk in Venezuela is HIGH.
Additionally, vessels arriving in the country have been facing delays due to poor maintenance and rusting pipelines at oil terminals. The main issue being, that numerous terminals are suffering leaks with some vessels requiring their hulls to be cleaned prior to going on to ports that prohibit oil-stained vessels. Given the issues, All vessels now entering Venezuela should now be prepared for a HIGH maritime risk as well as increased delays.
The Mediterranean does not often feature in the Solace Global’s Maritime Monthly Summary; however, recent tensions between Russia and Ukraine deserve a mention. The recent incident in the Sea of Azov resulted in a number of vessels being blocked from accessing eastern Ukrainian ports. Additionally, there have also been reports of GPS outages in the eastern Mediterranean which have affected maritime shipping in the region and the Red Sea. And finally, the security crackdown in Libya and European pressure have slowed the departures of migrant boats from Libya’s Sabratha.
Following the seizure of the three Ukrainian vessels, Russia blocked the channel linking the Azov Sea to the Black Sea by placing a vessel under the newly created bridge linking Russia to Crimea. Though Russia claimed to have reopened the strait, at least 20 vessels were reported to have waited at anchor, being lashed by gale force winds and sleet and having their hulls iced over. It has been reported that only two vessels have been allowed through since the 25 November incident. Initially, the Russian coast guard, who have been inspecting traffic in the Kerch Strait for the past eight months, blamed the bad weather for the delays; however, since an improvement in the conditions, only a number of vessels have been cleared to pass.
The incident demonstrates the leverage Moscow has over Ukraine’s Azov seaboard; affecting dock workers, port operators, brokers and farmers who depend on the route. The control of the strait great impacts the geopolitical context of the region. Additionally, Ukrainian males of military age are being ordered to remain in country, in case they are required; impacting those who work in the shipping industry.
Additionally, the US Maritime Administration issued an expanded advisory for GPS disruptions in the Middle East in November. The new advisory renews and repeats warnings for the eastern Mediterranean and adds the Port of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Disruptions in, or near, Israel’s Port of Haifa, Egypt’s Port Said and in the Straits of Hormuz have been reported. It appears that the nearby conflict in Syria is to blame for the majority of disruptions in the eastern Mediterranean with illegal fishing the likely cause of the issues near Port Said. Analysis from two separate companies has also shown that there are on-going GPS disruptions in Russian waters of the Black Sea.
Another issue that continues in the Mediterranean is the ongoing migrant crossings. Migrant flows have slowed from the former smuggling hub to Italy in Sabratha, Libya. The slowdown is mainly thanks to a security crackdown triggered by European pressure that ejected the city’s top smugglers. However, the number of migrants heading into Spain has been increasing greatly. Indicating a shift in dynamic of the migrant issue in the Mediterranean with Morocco and Tunisia becoming the new “hubs” for migrants trying to get into Europe.
High Maritime Piracy Risk
Solace Global remains available to provide the full range of Maritime Security Solutions and Travel Risk Management Solutions. Vessels transiting High-Risk Areas should maintain a heightened level of surveillance and proceed with caution. Vessels should also ensure all BMP5 measures are in place to the fullest extent possible. Solace Global Maritime Security advise, and have implemented, 24-hour anti-piracy watches and provide armed and unarmed vessel protection services. In addition, Solace Global Maritime Security are also able to offer crew training, port and destination risk assessments, stowaway prevention and kidnap response.